MOBILE, Ala. (BP) — The barista stands smiling behind the counter while preparing drinks. Meanwhile, an unkempt, older man walks in: dirty blue jeans, a shirt several sizes too large, his face unshaven and burned from the sun.
“Hey there, Chelsey!” he calls to the barista.
“Hey, Mr. Jimmy!” she returns, coming from behind the counter and to reach out for a hug — still smiling.
This smiling barista is Chelsey Sayasane, now Miss University of Mobile (UM) 2017. The university is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention. The man is Mr. Jimmy, a homeless man and a frequenter of Moka’s Coffee Company in Saraland, Ala., where Chelsey has served as a barista for several years.
Their friendship sparked an idea that became a ministry to provide winter, rain and business coats to the homeless and create relationships.
Sayasane started the “Coats of Many Colors” ministry in 2016 as a college student at the Christian university in south Alabama, one of the rainiest cities in the nation. It became part of her platform in the Miss University of Mobile pageant, which she won in February 2017. A national company based in Mobile and led by a UM graduate, Slingshot Inc., liked the idea and promoted it nationwide through their business.
Sayasane said God used Jimmy to open her heart to loving people in ways she hadn’t before.
“He would come into Moka’s every week and ask if he could pick up the trash in the parking lot,” Sayasane said. “He just wanted to help out. When I would see him, I would talk to him like I would to a friend. We talked about his family, what led him to become homeless, and why he thought it was so hard to overcome. I saw him as a human being, not just a homeless man.”
Sayasane eventually asked Jimmy what the homeless community needed most from their neighbors throughout Mobile County.
“He told me that they needed emotional care, to know they aren’t forgotten, but physically, they needed coats,” Sayasane said.
This conversation prompted her to pray for what God was calling her to do: to actively work with the homeless community in Mobile. And soon, she went to work.
“I started to strategize. I made a goal to do one coat drop-off a month and collect coats throughout the month,” she said.
Sayasane collects coats from all over the community of Saraland just north of the city of Mobile — Saraland High School, Bridgeway Academy preschool and a Merle Norman store. She picks up the coats from each location and partners with local organization One Meal to distribute coats one Sunday a month. The coats are distributed directly to homeless men and women in downtown Mobile.
During Sayasane’s very first coat delivery, a local news anchor was running in Bienville Square, a public park in downtown Mobile. The anchor grew curious about what was going on, so she stopped running to ask. After hearing Sayasane’s story, she conducted a brief Facebook Live interview with Sayasane.
“That interview opened so many doors,” Sayasane said.
Sayasane has collected more than 1,000 coats, and the coats keep coming. Despite the influx of donations, there are still needs to fill.
“Right now, there are so many more women’s coats than men’s, but there are more homeless men in Mobile than there are homeless women,” Sayasane said.
But she remains patient as she considers ways to remedy the shortage of men’s coats, keeping her focus on a more important issue: spreading the Gospel. In addition to collecting and giving away coats, Sayasane has prayed with more than 80 homeless men and women.
“It’s much more than giving away free coats,” she said. “I want those who are homeless to know they are not forgotten, that we see them in their struggle. This is about building relationships in our community.”
“Jesus is so faithful,” Sayasane said. “When I was praying about this, I asked the Lord to take control. I wanted Him to use me in whatever I did. When I began serving others, I always expected to make an impact, but this has changed me and my heart.”